There were Four Russians Outside of my Door This Morning

Today’s Russia story is up over at Hijacked Amygdala. Check it out

hijacked amygdala

photo_2018-12-10_16-42-40My mother grew up in the 70s. This means that all of her favorite spy movies had eerily similar bad guys with names like Boris, Ivan, Ivan, and Boris. When my mother visited me in Russia, she stepped out of the arrival gates and said,

“Holy-fucking-shit, I’m here.

Since American media had already moved on to Arabs by the time I crawled into the world, I never thought of Russia as an enemy. But today there were four Russians outside of my apartment building this morning. They rang up, and I thought,

“oh, they are here to murder me–I am going to be taken to some dark room and tortured until I admit anything, they want me to admit. it won’t take long, I am so squishy and pink! Then I will be hung in the Red Square and I don’t even know any Morse code, so I won’t…

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#GuestBlog Benjamin Davis, author of “The King of FU”

Nesie's Place

~~How Russia Inspired a Year of Daily Art and Stories~~

Before I left for Russia, when I’d tell Americans where I was headed, they’d say, “why the hell are you going to Russia?” And, I never was able to answer, as much as I wanted to. I was only curious and even more curious about what made people quite so afraid. Were there monsters in Russia? Were there spies down every alley and primordial bits of darkness that I’d have to navigate in order to avoid being lost forever?

On the plane, I began reading a book called, Russian Fairy Tales (The Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) by Aleksandr Afanas’ev.  I’d traveled before, read fairy tales before. I have sat and read Grimm’s Fairy Tales then got off a train in Berlin where blue skies and a clean and orderly Starbucks greeted me.

When I closed Russian Fairy Tales and…

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Why Following Babushkas Around the Streets of Saint Petersburg is like Watching a Bag of Popcorn in the Microwave

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It is common knowledge amongst young residents of Russian cities that Babushkas [older Russian women] do not like to be followed. If you tread, especially at night, too close behind a babushka, she will turn, check to see if you are a murderer or a thief, then pause and let you pass.

This is normal.

The trouble began afterward. I stopped in a store for a pack of cigarettes. I came back out, lit one, and continued my journey home only to find myself, again, treading a little too closely behind that exact same Babushka. She stopped quicker this time, turned faster, she scowled and hugged her purse a little closer and so I nodded as if to say, “I’m sorry,” to which she read, “I’ll get to you in a minute.”

The first few kernels had popped. I walked on.

A little further down the road, I bumped into my friend, Ivan. I stopped to chat. I couldn’t help but notice the babushka passed yet again. I tried to smile in the least creepy, I-am-going-to-find-you-and-steal-your-bread, possible way. She was puffier, redder, expanding.

But it is no use. I vowed to take a good long while with Ivan, who turned out to be in a rush. He left. But, for good measure, I stood and finished my cigarette. I looked up and found the babushka was nowhere to be seen, so I trekked home.

I came up to the end of the alley into my courtyard and–oh dear god. There she was, she had stopped to feed the homeless ginger cat that lives behind the dumpster. She saw me. There was a panic in her face and she was popping at full speed now, backing away. I could almost see the fluffy pops of panic flying out of her brain, accumulating beneath her bonnet. It was tense.

I held up my hands, “I am sorry! I live just there.”

Then something happened. She frowned. Her whole demeanor changed, and I could almost hear her thoughts as she shrugged and went back to feeding the ginger cat: 

Oh, he’s American. I could take him.

Why Russia: Cats and Cockroaches

I drink a glass of water before bed. I stand and watch my cats try to eat the cockroaches sprawling over my cutting board. Those damn cockroaches. The first time I saw them, I went numb behind the ears and almost puked. Six cans of Raid, a dozen roach-traps, a kitchen full of containers full dried goods and one month later, I just watch them. There are hundreds more now, many of them are babies. Someone has been getting their freak on.

Good for them.

In the morning, reality knows only two things; the roaches have fled into the cutlery drawer, or the dish-rack, the microwave, the cabinet beneath the sink, a crack in the walls, above the shelves, beneath the floorboards, behind the toilet, under the bath, or in some other dark nook cranny or crevice inside this apartment of seemingly endless dark nooks, crannies, and crevices, also the cats are hungry.

I am truly grateful that they are so fat and sweet, those cats, and they cuddle.

But hell, what good are they.

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Why Russia: Speaking Russian

Trying to speak Russian feels like fumbling around a room of people I’m sure I’ve met before but whose names I can’t quite seem to remember. Sometimes, I think I’ve got one. I walk over and cry, “Frank!” The man turns and says, “no, I am Frankы, Frank is over there calling Julии, just behind Frankом, the novelist. Jackass.”

IMG_3071And, this is nothing compared to my perpetual fear that I might be offered a voice-activated Russian time machine. If I were told I had to go back and save the world in 1953, I am sure I’d find myself 21 years, or 223 years, or 347 years in the future, or possibly past, and I’m sure that when I stepped out of it I’d be a man or woman or at least a noun (or worst case, an adjective) and hopefully there would only be one of me, though I’m less sure that I wouldn’t be eating my own nose upon arrival.

Either way, the world would surely burn.

Why Russia: Cancel Monday and Fuck off.

IMG_3101.jpgI live with my friend ‘D’ in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The man, Olek, who works in the shop where we buy our morning coffee sometimes calls D, “Bob–something.”

Once, we asked why and Olek said, “He black–you black. He big–you big.”

Olek is a delicate man.

This morning, his shirt said, “CANCEL MONDAY”

And, in case you didn’t get the point, just below it read, “FUCK OFF.”

It is Thursday.

He smiled when we walked in, “Tyson!” he cried at D. We all shook hands.

“You–” he clapped me on the arm. “Every morning you come in here and you look like–” he finished with a Russian word. He frowned. I frowned. D frowned. The old lady standing at the counter behind him waiting to get served, frowned.

I shrugged. He said, “one moment.”

As he served the old woman, he looked up something on his phone. When the old lady finally left, he came out to stand beside us and together, we read his phone.

“like a junkie going through withdrawal.”

He sounds it out slower. He points at me as he does.

“You…look…like..junkie…going…through…withdrawal–hah! Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

We get our coffee and leave. When we arrive back in the courtyard to our apartment and round the dumpster, we find a crouching skull-capped man with a large zit on his nose taking a shit on a pile of old wall art that had been there since yesterday. There were bunnies on it if I remember correctly.

The man-made eyes at me, then at D. He had a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He nodded. We nodded.

“Excuse me,” he said.

We waved our hands to him in the same way you might tell someone, “don’t worry, no one was going to eat that last cookie anyways.”

 

*If you guys would like to check out D’s blog, he writes stories about life here in Russia as well as a bunch of other great stuff: https://dantonlamar.wordpress.com/